Occasionally, I will tell people that the closest thing I've ever had to a spiritual experience is the night in February, 1964, when I saw the Beatles for the first time, the first time they were on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The thing they sometimes don't really get is that I'm only half joking when I say that. It really was a major turning point in my life. At seven years old, hiding behind the piano to watch because I was supposed to be in bed asleep, I got turned on to music. I had been in bed, but I heard that wonderful noise coming from the TV and I had to get up and see what it was. Forget the fact that the next morning was a school day, and I had to be up early. I just had a sense that this was something important, something I had to get in on.
And, really, it was. Not just the fact that the Beatles changed the world. Well, yeah, they had help, but they're the ones who really started the change in what music meant to the world and could accomplish in it. But also the fact that they...their music...changed my life that night. From then on, really from nearly the next day, while my second grade friends were running home after school to watch cartoons, I was running home to watch the local afternoon music shows, L.A.' weekday-afternoon clones of American Bandstand. I'd say it took me less than a week to discover them after that Sunday night.
Some people don't believe me when I tell this story. I was just a little kid, they say, and young kids that little don't get music in the same way that older kids and adults do. But, I was a precocious kid in other ways, too. By that time, I was reading books out of the adult section of the library, and not only reading them but understanding them. So, I don't really think it was unusual that I responded to the Beatles and their music the way I did, when I did.
What brings all this up is that I stumbled onto Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" yesterday, while I was looking for something else on the Internet. That's one of the things I love about the Internet. You go looking for one thing and, completely serendipitously, come across something you didn't know you were looking for. Something wonderful. I only got through reading the first 50 titles on the list before I had to go off and do other things, but even that first fifty brought back memories, including,, at number sixteen on Rolling Stone's list, "I Want to Hold Your Hand", which The Beatles played that night in 1964.
Several of my all-time personal favorite songs are also in the top 50 of Rolling Stone's list. At number 21 is Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run", from 1975. Number 26 is "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay", by Otis Redding, which is from 1968 and didn't come out until after Redding was killed in a plane crash. At number 29 is another Beatles song, "Help", from 1965 and was the title song for their second film. U2's beautiful "One", which came out in 1991, is at number 36. And "Hotel California," by the Eagles, from 1976, is the 49th song on the Rolling Stone list.
There are seven Beatles' songs in those first 50 plus, at number 3, "Imagine", by John Lennon, from 1974. Those seven include, along with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "Help", which I've already mentioned, "Hey Jude" (at number 8), "Yesterday" (at number 13), "Let It Be" (at number 20), "In My Life" (at number 23), and "A Day in the Life" (at number 28).
The Beatles aren't the only act to have more than one song in the top 50. The Rolling Stones placed three songs there, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", (at number 2), "Sympathy for the Devil" (at number 32), and "Gimme Shelter" (at number 38). And there are two songs each from Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, and Elvis Presley. Actually, Dylan has three if you include, at number 47, The Jimi Hendrix Experience's version of "All Along the Watchtower", which Dylan wrote.
There is just one song in that first 50 that I don't know at all, The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset", which is at number 42 and came out in 1968. I'll be checking that one out. I'm not sure how I missed it. I was in seventh grade in 1968 and listened to the radio constantly.
I'll also be going back to the list, to see what the other 450 songs included are, and to see what other memories those titles bring back. It's a neat list. Almost like a time machine.
Or like a service in the First Church of Musical Greatness.